Spread The Love
Brighton’s failure to go top of the Premier League on Monday night will not matter in the slightest to them, because they scored a 95th minute equaliser at their semi-regional arch-rivals, but it did mean that we have completed six matchweeks without any team winning more than four of their games. This is the second season in a row that this has happened, which is the first time it has occurred two campaigns in a row since a spell of three in a row between 2000-01 and 2002-03. What’s the significance of this, you may be wondering, and it is this: the Premier League is a relative state of flux right now. Teams like Brighton, West Ham and maybe even Crystal Palace under Patrick Vieira, have the coaching nous and the financial strength to outplay big domestic sides and outbid big European teams for important players. There are structural flaws within English football but we are in the midst of a bumper crop of quality Premier League sides, and the fact that Brighton were disappointed to not go top on the same evening that Palace were disappointed not to convert their excellent play this season into a second win only emphasises that point. Football, you have to rate it.
One minor sub-plot from Monday’s Premier League game was Steven Alzate’s all-too-brief evening. He started on the bench for Brighton, came on at half-time but lasted just 20 minutes in the second period before injury forced him off. That was the 337th instance in the division’s history that a substitute had been substituted, from Nigel Jemson (#1) in September 1992 all the way through to Alzate at Selhurst Park. Let’s hope that Adam Lallana had a word of support for him in the dressing room, as, maybe unsurprisingly, he has suffered that fate on three occasions in the Premier League, alongside players such as Joe Cole and Jose Dominguez. But the ultimate on/off champions remains Keith Gillespie, who was subbed on and off in the same Premier League game on four occasions. Keith: people change their mind.
This time last year Ben Brereton was called Ben Brereton and was a promising Blackburn player, with caps for England U19s and U20s. Right now he is named Ben Brereton Diaz, has played for and scored for Chile in the Copa America, and on Saturday he scored his first professional hat-trick in Blackburn’s game with Cardiff. Not only that, but the 2.3 xG he rustled up against Cardiff is the highest by any player in any game in England’s top four divisions this season. As character arcs go, this is a good one.
Six games into the season and Leicester might not be as good as they used to be, but Jamie Vardy probably is. I predicted he would score fewer than 10 Premier League goals this season and oh look: he has five already. Writing off Vardy is easy to do in games where he barely gets involved, but he can always string together a series of performances, particularly in the autumn, where he still looks like one of the most effective forwards in the country. Against Burnley he scored an own goal, two actual goals and had 14 touches in the opposition penalty box, more than both Chelsea and Tottenham had as teams this weekend. Overall Leicester had a bumper 50 touches in the box this weekend, a joint-high in the division this season, along with Manchester City against Arsenal and Liverpool against, yes, Burnley again. But City and Liverpool won those games and Leicester only claimed a point against Sean Dyche’s team thanks to a VAR intervention that ruled out a Burnley winner. Vardy seems as ebullient as ever, the Foxes? Less so.
Surprise: Bruno Fernandes took Manchester United’s 93rd minute penalty against Aston Villa and ramblers in Cumbria have just located the ball, lodged in a birch tree near Cartmel. Missing a crucial spot-kick with the theoretically judgmental presence of Cristiano Ronaldo nearby must have been painful but let’s not pretend that the older Portuguese, sometimes known as Penaldo, is infallible from 12 yards. Since taking his first league penalty for Manchester United in 2006-06, Ronaldo has taken 112 in top-flight league football, with 95 of them ending up in the back of the net. Yes, that’s a good conversion rate, but it’s not infallible. Only in 2008-09 (4/4), 2010-11 (8/8) and 2013-14 (6/6) has Cristiano Ronaldo scored all the penalties he’s taken in a league campaign. That said, his overall rate is 85% which is above average (78%) and combine that with all the narrative and the history and it will be highly surprising if Manchester United’s next penalty is not taken by someone wearing the number seven shirt.